Continuing my thoughts on the role of Treasure in RPGs...
When I first entered the RPG hobby I had very little experience with or exposure to Fantasy fiction of the type that inspired D&D.
I may have read The Hobbit by that point but I'm not positive. I first played Holmes Basic D&D in August of '77 and the animated film wouldn't air until November. Fantasy to me was Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and books like Faeries and Gnomes. I knew what Knights, Dragons, and Castles were thanks to Erol Flynn films on the Sunday Afternoon Movie, Walt Disney films and Bugs Bunny/Warner Brothers cartoons.
Yeah, I wasn't what you'd call 'well versed'.
My closest friends were largely in the same situation, so we defaulted to what we did know: Movies, TV shows, and comic books. That's why in our first campaign ever we almost never looted the bodies, never checked for treasure, and we weren't really concerned about money for the most part. Of course we needed money from time to time but we didn't concern ourselves with it or with trying to amass it. Obtaining wealth and all that simply wasn't high on our list of interests or priorities.
As I've mentioned, our roles models for heroic characters were Captain America, Mister Spock, and The Lone Ranger. None of these fellows searched fallen enemies for loose change. How demeaning for a hero! That's the work of low lives and common thieves.
Sometime later when I would play with others who'd been playing the game 'correctly', I was confused and a little weirded out by all the pick pocketing, tomb robbing, and stealing from corpses. Over time and exposure to the source material found in Appendix N I found it...well...less strange but still freaking odd.
AD&D would eventually come along and we would start playing a game wherein you gain Loot Points...sorry...Experience Points for finding Treasure. Wait. Let me read that again. Experience equals something something Gold something something...hmmm. Yeah, not doing that.
It makes no sense. How does finding coins contribute to you being better at healing spells or smashing a goblin's head with your mace? The system already had enough counter-intuitive, hard to swallow concepts for me without the idea that wealth made you a better wall climber or barbarian berserker. This cognitive dissonance (which I honestly had with many elements of AD&D) was what first inspired me to do things a little differently.
Beginning with my first major Aerth/Winghorn Guard campaign in 1983 (or thereabouts), I used a homebrew Experience Point system based on things like 'Creative Use of an Ability, Spell, Item, or Weapon' and 'Personal Character Development'. Contrary to what some would assume, it wasn't that players tried to emote whenever possible to get XP but rather if you happened to you'd be rewarded.
These rewards were given by the DM (me) but based largely on popular opinion of the party members. Each player would bring up a cool moment, action, or bit of dialogue from one of the other players and we'd discuss if it warranted a reward. I still use a similar system today in many of my games.
What made this work especially well back then was that The Winghorn Guard campaign wasn't about Treasure hunting. The game focused on the PCs as Heroes, protecting innocents from monsters, thwarting thieves guilds, and preventing mad demi-gods from taking over the world. How then would the PCs ever obtain Experience Points? In fact, I created a system wherein the PCs would get XP for donating coins/money to their organization to help maintain it.
In the end I don't recall how wealthy any of these characters became. That is to say, we don't sit around telling stories of the Treasure we found or money we made. Does anyone? Instead, we remember the characters - their personalities, activities, and the events that surrounded them. That's what was memorable and so that's what was rewarded.
Additional thoughts are brewing...